Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Diplomacy For Dummies

After eight years of wavering and inconsistent foreign policy under President Bush (quasi-isolationist to neoconservative to realist) and nine months of a "one world, one dream" hand-holding and Kumbaya-singing approach to diplomacy under President Obama, the United States desperately needs to get back to statecraft basics. At least that's the clearly delivered and well-articulated argument put forward by Angelo Codevilla in his book Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft.

The book is a primer for statesmen and especially presidents to follow in order to return the country to a more pragmatic approach to foreign affairs. Codevilla doesn't propose a specific label to cover what he proposes, but it might be called "common sense statecraft." To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, Codevilla wants the United States to "speak clearly, carry a big stick, and don't be afraid to swing it hard when you must" when dealing with other countries.

He lays out a withering critique on the three schools of statecraft (Liberal Internationalist, Neoconservative, and Realist) that he believes have--in various forms and combinations--usually guided American foreign policy over the last eighty years or so. He contrasts and compares them unfavorably with the relative simple and straightforward approach to diplomacy envisioned by the Founders.

It isn't a prescription for Buchananite isolationism. Codevilla asks that America understand her international interests, clearly state them, and be prepared to go to war (if necessary) to protect them. He also asks that our leaders understand other countries' motivations, recognize that they don't share the same interests as we do, and grasp our limitations in changing either through talk.

In the opening chapters, he discusses how important it is that we use clear and precise language in diplomacy. The old "say what you mean and mean what you say" adage. Using weasel words and crafting ambiguous compromises that leave both side free to interpret as they choose may help politicians spin their policies, but it does nothing to advance U.S. interests.

He loathes half-measures. If you want to use economics sanctions to influence a country's behavior, then they should be implemented as completely, severely, and hopefully shortly as possible. Call it the Sherman approach. For economics sanctions are akin to war and like war they should only be undertaken if you are committed to victory from the start.

Codevilla has a excellent chapter on the proper role of intelligence and recognizes the importance of the home front. He knocks the notion that the country can be protected from terrorism through the auspices of Homeland Security. He says that if we are serious about being at war we need to clearly declare who are enemies are and aggressively go about defeating them.

So it is self-evident--to those who understand the meaning of the terms--that freedom and internal security will take care of themselves to the extent that war on foreign enemies is taken seriously.

He laments that too often, America's foreign policies aren't aligned with the common sense values of the American people.

The only bones in America's body politic that yearn to shape mankind belong to those Americans who fancy themselves the world's leaders--who like Woodrow Wilson feel more comfortable among the foreign potentates they imagine to be their peers, pretending that their agendas represent their countrymen's commitment, than they do at home dealing with their equals' concerns, which they deem parochial and low.

All in all "Advice to War Presidents" is a thoughtful, engaging work that one fervently hopes would somehow find its way into the hands intended in the title. Alas, that flight of fancy is not likely to come to pass. Codevilla's ideas simply make too much sense.

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